Born: November 23, 1878; Le Havre, France
Died: April 22, 1925; Paris, France
Although remembered mainly as an orchestrator and editor of unfinished works by his close friend Claude Debussy, André Caplet was a solid composer in his own right, working in the Impressionist style of his time and place. Growing up in a poor family pushed Caplet into music early; by age 12 he was working as a rehearsal pianist at the Folies-Bergères in his hometown of Le Havre. This helped him develop sight-reading and improvisation skills andRead more a sense of harmony very quickly, and in 1896 he entered the Paris Conservatory, winning a string of prizes during his time there and simultaneously working as a conductor around Paris. In 1901 he won the Prix de Rome; unlike many other composers, he obtained on his first try.
It was mainly as a conductor, however, that Caplet made his living early in his career. He was a meticulous perfectionist, qualities alien to French orchestras of the time. His work attracted international attention, and in 1910 he was recruited to work six months a year at the Boston Opera Company, of which he became artistic director in 1912. He left to volunteer for French military service in 1914. In the trenches he was wounded twice and gassed; his health permanently compromised (he would die prematurely of pleurisy), Caplet largely gave up conducting and turned to composing, editing, and proofreading. He developed an especially close relationship with Debussy, having, among other things, conducted the 1911 Paris premiere of his Le Martyre de St. Sébastien after having orchestrated most of the work.
Caplet's own music revolved mainly around the voice. Within Debussy's Impressionistic harmonic manner he developed a personal style, marked especially by wide-ranging, improvisatory-sounding melodies. Even his instrumental works follow these inclinations, but what sets his music apart from Debussy's is a taste for plainchant and a general interest in archaic music, manifested most strongly in Le Miroir de Jésus, a work that drew on his musical obsessions as well as his Catholic mysticism. Read less